Several Western countries have been heavily criticising Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers at facilities built for next year’s sporting event.
Sweden’s Football Association [SVFF] said it would not be participating in January’s training camp in Qatar on Wednesday, citing concerns over reports regarding migrant workers in the country.
The decision came following discussions between Swedish clubs, who made “a unanimous assessment that the camp should not take place in Doha in the coming years,” the Associated Press [AP] reported.
“What is clear is that the January tour will not be in Doha, Qatar,” said Hakan Sjostrand, the federation’s secretary general.
The president of Swedish giants AIK Stockholm, Robert Falck, had described the trip to Qatar as “idiotic.”
The SVFF has been holding training camps in January every year since 2019, with the federation saying that it will be looking for alternatives.
The Swedish sporting body also said it has “done extensive work off the field to contribute to positive changes linked to human rights and the situation of migrant workers” in Qatar.
According to AFP, Sjostrand and other sports officials of the Nordic country federations—Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland—sent a letter to FIFA in September to “pressure” Qatari leaders following an Amnesty report over unexplained deaths of migrant workers believed to be working at World Cup facilities.
Despite Sweden’s stance over holding the training camp in Qatar, it made no mention of cancelling its participation in the major sporting event, which is set to take place in a year.
In August, Amnesty International released a 56-page report titled “In the Prime of their Lives,” accusing Qatari authorities of failing to investigate the preventable deaths of “thousands of migrant workers” over the past decade, which it said were linked to unsafe and hot working conditions.
Amnesty reviewed government data “on thousands of deaths” and specifically analysed 18 death certificates issued between 2017 and 2021 and interviewed families of six male migrants who died between the ages of 30 and 40.
Out of the death certificates reviewed by the rights group, 15 did not provide information about the underlying causes. Instead, it used vague reasoning such as “acute heart failure natural causes,” “heart failure unspecified,” and “acute respiratory failure due to natural causes.”
Responding to Amnesty International, a spokesperson from the Qatari Government Communications Office [GCO] rejected the report, saying that the injury and mortality statistics published by the Gulf state “are in line with international best practice.”
The GCO said that Amnesty had insisted that Qatar should go beyond the international standards in an unjustified manner, describing the report as “flawed” and sensationalist.
Commenting on the phrases used in Qatar’s death certificates, Dr. David Bailey, a leading pathologist and member of the WHO Working Group on death certification, said that further clarification is needed to explain the underlying causes of the reported deaths.
The report failed to mention the names of the companies that hired the deceased migrant workers in the past without holding them accountable for the deaths.
Amnesty International UK’s CEO Sacha Deshmukh called on England players, staff, and supporters to “keep worker rights in Qatar in the public eye.”
With the deaths in Amnesty’s reports linked to the scorching heat in Qatar, the GCO said that it is already implementing many of the measures the rights group recommended in its report.
“For example, legislation was introduced in June to protect workers from heat stress further. The new rules expand the hours during which all outdoor work is prohibited and require all work to immediately stop if the wet-bulb globe temperature rises above 32.1°C,” explained the GCO’s statement.
Qatar implemented the laws following a study conducted by research experts at FAME Lab and extensive consultations with Doha’s international partners, including the ILO. Furthermore, Doha introduced national heat stress guidance and state-of-the-art cooling apparel to reduce body temperatures during the summer.
British media has been particularly active in targeting Qatar as the host of the long-anticipated World Cup 2022, releasing reports that have claimed an alarming number of deaths among migrant workers, insisting that they are linked to the construction of stadiums.
A controversial report published by The Guardian in February headlined, “Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar as it gears up for World Cup” linked the “shocking” death rate to the start of the World Cup 2022 journey a decade ago.
However, the report also failed to clarify the reasons behind the deaths and was dismissed by Qatar as “baseless.”
The Guardian failed to cite official medical records explaining the circumstances of the deaths or whether the deceased even worked on any World Cup related projects.
It goes on to quote labour rights in the Gulf by experts who say it’s “likely that many workers who died were employed on these World Cup infrastructure projects.”
Speaking to Doha News at the time, experts said the “deceptive” reporting is part of a significant Western media propaganda campaign against Qatar.
On the other hand, Qatar has been praised on a global and regional scale for its “historic” labour reforms.
In March, Qatar introduced the region’s first ever non-discriminatory minimum wage. Employers must pay allowances of at least QAR 300 for food and QAR 500 for housing on top of the minimum monthly basic salary of QAR 1,000.
Employers who pay their staff less than the minimum wage will face one year in jail and a QR 10,000 fine.
As part of the major labour reform agenda, Qatar drastically enhanced monitoring across the board to detect violations, enact swifter penalties, and further strengthen labour inspectors’ capacity.
These labour reforms also include dismantling the controversial “kafala” or sponsorship system, becoming the first country in the region.
In an exclusive interview with Doha News in March, senior ILO official Houtan Homayounpour said more work needs to be done to ensure the protection of workers in Qatar. However, authorities should be recognised for the work that has gone into making these changes.
In May, Qatar’s Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs [MADLSA] launched its new platform for workers’ complaints, enabling employees to submit public violations of the labour law.
The employee or worker can file a complaint by logging in through the authentication system available on the platform.
Meanwhile, hundreds of companies have faced severe repercussions for violating Qatar’s reformed labour laws as authorities continue to crack down on offenders.